What if an employer cannot accommodate work restrictions?

If your employer is unable to accommodate work restrictions following a job-related injury, there are certain steps you can take. Find out what these are

What if an employer cannot accommodate work restrictions?


By Mark Rosanes

Many work-related accidents result in minor injuries, allowing employees to return to their regular jobs quickly, sometimes even without missing time. But there are also unfortunate instances where a worker sustains a more serious injury that requires a longer time to fully heal.

Workers’ compensation laws require employers to make reasonable accommodations for such employees if they are declared fit enough to return to work as long as they follow certain restrictions. But what if an employer cannot accommodate work restrictions?

Insurance Business sheds light on this topic and more in this article. If you have been injured on the job and are wondering how you can return to work before completely recovering, this piece can give you a picture of what to expect. Read on and learn more about the steps you can take if your employer cannot accommodate work restrictions.

What if an employer cannot accommodate work restrictions?

Once your doctor declares that you can return to work but with certain restrictions, your employer must only assign tasks that meet these limitations. This may entail reducing your time or modifying certain tasks or providing the necessary equipment to help you get the work done.

Communication is key during these instances. You should be able to show your employer the medical restrictions your doctor has imposed and discuss how these restrictions can be met.

Your employer, however, is not required to make accommodations if these would prove too costly or difficult to provide based on the company’s size, financial resources, and nature of business. 

If your employer says that it cannot accommodate your work restrictions, then they cannot require you to return to work. You are also eligible for disability payouts under your employer’s workers compensation insurance, as well as other similar benefits. These include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Your employer cannot force you to do tasks that are beyond your work restrictions. If you need to refuse a work assignment because it fails to meet your restrictions, then you must explain this clearly to your employer, ideally in writing. An experienced workers' compensation lawyer can help you with the documentation. 

In addition, your employer is legally prohibited from retaliating or threatening action against you for refusing a work assignment. However, you also cannot refuse an assignment just because it is not the kind of work that you want even if it meets your medical restrictions. Doing so can terminate your workers' compensation benefits. 

What are work restrictions?

Work restrictions, sometimes called medical restrictions, are specific limits to the tasks you can do if you return to work while recovering from a job-related injury. Doctors impose these kinds of restrictions to prevent an employee from reinjuring themselves or aggravating their injuries.

Some common work restrictions that doctors set include:

  • Heavy lifting restrictions: These are specific limits on how much weight you can lift.
  • Physical movement restrictions: Doctors can set limits on the types of movements you can perform to prevent you from worsening your injury. These can include avoiding reaching over your head or turning your body in certain directions.
  • Restrictions on repetitive motions: Doctors can also put restrictions on certain movements that caused your injury or may make it worse. This can include reducing the time you spend on doing repetitive tasks.
  • Limitation to performing light duties: Your injury may also limit you to work assignments that are not physically demanding. These include desk jobs and other administrative tasks.

Doctors can also prohibit you from working in an emotionally stressful environment or where you can be exposed to certain elements such as dust and fumes. They can likewise set a limit on the length of your shift.

The table below sums up the common work restrictions that doctors set to prevent injuries from worsening.

 What if an employer cannot accommodate work restrictions – common work restrictions

When should you return to work following a job-related injury?

Unless your doctor clears you, it is best not to go back to work even if you feel well enough. Returning too early may affect your recovery and cause you to reinjure yourself. Your doctor may also impose work restrictions that you and your employer must follow to help you fully recover.

Returning to work against your doctor’s advice isn’t a smart decision as this can impact the workers’ compensation benefits you receive, especially if you end up aggravating your injury. Similarly, your employer cannot force you to go back to work until you are medically cleared to do so.

While recovering from injury, it is crucial for you to have open communication with your employer. Be sure to update your employer about your recovery and what your doctor says about your possible return.

Staying in touch with your employer shows your genuine interest in returning to your job and helps your employer prepare for when you’re cleared to go back. If your doctor imposes work restrictions, you must inform your employer about these, so they can work out ways on how to make reasonable accommodations.

What types of disability benefits are covered under workers’ compensation?

If your work-related injury prevents you from doing your job, you may be eligible for disability benefits under your employer’s workers compensation insurance plan. These benefits fall into four categories, with each providing a different level of financial protection. These are:

1. Temporary total disability (TTD) benefits

TTD payments are designed to compensate for lost wages while you are recovering from a work-related illness or injury. You are eligible for this type of benefit if you’re unable to work at all while recovering.

State laws vary on the benefit amount, but TTD payments are usually equivalent to two-thirds of your income and are not tax-deductible. You must receive your first payment within 14 days after your employer has been informed of two things:

  • That you have suffered a work-related injury
  • That your doctor has declared that you are temporarily disabled

Your claims administrator should send the TTD benefit, along with an explanation of the payment calculation.

You are also not eligible to receive any benefits for your first three days off work unless your injury lasts more than two weeks or requires hospitalization.

2. Temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits

Temporary partial disability benefits work the same way as TTD payouts, but you can also receive TPD payments if you can return to work with certain restrictions. These include limitations on the number of hours you can work and the types of tasks you can do.

TPD payments are equivalent to two-thirds of your lost wages. Lost wages are calculated by subtracting the amount you’re earning by working part-time from your average weekly salary. TPD benefits are subject to your maximum temporary disability (TD) rate. 

Both TTD and TPD benefits end once you meet one of the following criteria:

  • You have returned to work
  • Your doctor declares that you can return to work
  • Your doctor says you have reached “maximum medical improvement”
  • You have received more than 104 compensable weeks of payments for a single disability within two years from when the TD payments began
  • You or the insurer disputes the treating doctor’s evaluation, and a qualified medical evaluator (QME) assesses you and finds any of the above

Once your TD payments end, your claims administrator is required to send you a letter explaining the reasons.

What if an employer cannot accommodate work restrictions – maximum medical improvement

3. Permanent total disability (PTD) benefits

You may qualify for PTD benefits if a work-related injury prevents you from returning to your job prior to the injury after you have reached MMI.

4. Permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits

If you are unable to work in the same role before the injury because of some permanent impairment but can work in a different role that earns less, you may be eligible for PPD benefits.

Both PTD and PPD payments are set by the law and are based on three factors:

  1. Your wages at the time of the injury
  2. The date when you were injured
  3. Your disability rating

Disability ratings estimate how much your injury impacts your ability to work. A 100% rating indicates total disability, while figures below 100% signify partial disability. The ratings are based on several factors, including:

  • A QME’s medical assessment
  • The date of injury
  • Your age
  • Your occupation
  • How much of your disability is caused by your job
  • Your reduced future earning capacity

You can start receiving permanent disability (PD) payments as soon as your doctor or a QME finds signs of any permanent disability. If you have been receiving TD benefits, the PD payouts must be sent within 14 days after your last temporary disability check. Otherwise, payments must be sent within two weeks after your doctor declares your injury to be “permanent and stationary.” After the initial payment, PD checks are sent out every 14 days.

What if an employer cannot accommodate work restrictions – permanent & stationary

Here’s a summary of the four types of disability benefits injured employees can qualify for under workers’ compensation insurance.

 What if an employer cannot accommodate work restrictions – 4 types of disability benefits

How does workers’ compensation insurance work?

Workers’ compensation insurance is a form of business insurance that covers the cost of medical care and a portion of lost income of employees who get sick or injured while doing their jobs. It also protects businesses from the financial liability of having to pay for expenses arising from work-related illnesses and injuries out of pocket.

Almost all states require businesses to take out workers’ compensation insurance. The rates and level of protection vary, depending on where and in which industry the business operates.

Each state sets how workers comp rates are calculated based on a range of factors, including:

  • The company’s annual payroll
  • Job classifications, which reflect the riskiness of the work employees do
  • Experience modification rates, which track past workers’ compensation claims

The state also decides who handles and sells workers' compensation insurance policies. These may be state-run agencies, private insurance companies, or the state itself.

If you want to understand more about how this type of coverage works, you can check out our comprehensive guide to workers’ compensation insurance.

Check out the full report with this year’s complete line-up of awardees for the Top Workers’ Compensation Insurance Companies in the USA.

What if you get injured at work and your employer cannot accommodate your work restrictions? How would you deal with it? Let us know in the comments section below.

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